As of this date (19/03/19) the situation in UK politics (still reeling from the popular vote to leave the European Union) has become even more boring and absurd as it was nearly three years ago, when the referendum was called. Tribalism has taken hold on the collective psyche, with people signing petitions and other people claiming that half of the signatures on said petition are Russian bots.
Leo Varadkar has been having a good chuckle at this. And for those all too familiar with recent history, he could not be begrudged for enjoying the moment.
As a result, From Partition to Brexit finds itself perfectly placed.
This book traces the long (and extremely complicated, to put it mildly) relationships between Britain, the state of Northern Ireland and the 26 county Republic from 1921 to the present date. Going over the histories of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, it examines their roots in the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War and how those events impacted on not only individuals, but party politics as well.
Nothing particularly revelatory but, for a beginner, very well mapped out and with plenty of succinct commentary to flesh out these dusty facts.
The overall attitude to the North is depicted as symbolic and opportunistic by author Donnacha Ó Beacháin. From de Valera right through to Ahern, the discussion and symbolic behaviour regarding the six counties were very high on rhetoric, but had little to nothing in the way of substance, making the depiction of Northern nationalists hoping for help from the South from the Stormont regime all the more tragic.
What is exceedingly disturbing is the Dail response to the Dublin/Monaghan bombing. Although we all know that the Irish government would regularly kowtow to the British on certain matters, their behaviour in the aftermath of the bombing should have seen them lynched by the general public.
Instead of following up allegations of collusion with British security forces, or even responding to loyalist paramilitaries, they passed the blame onto "casual" IRA support (a pivot of loyalist philosophy) and thus began what became known as Irish historical revisionism, once described by Ed Moloney as a philosophy that:
... reviles all matters that smack of nationalism or republicanism... when the fever that had gripped the North threatened to contaminate the South, the Irish establishment – political, academic, journalistic – began to rewrite, revise and in the process revile crucial aspects of the origins of the State, most notably the character of those who had done the fighting that led to the Truce and Treaty... It was Ireland’s McCarthyite period, a shameful time which, by suppressing full and honest examination of what was happening in Ireland, warped understanding of the violence and why it happened, and in turn delayed...a resolution of the conflict.Was there any care or consideration shown to the survivors or the families of those killed? No, none whatsoever. Liam Cosgrove, Paddy Cooney and the rest of their ilk should be remembered as traitors to their own people that they swore to serve.
As a result, the road to peace was a long and testing one (not helped by paranoia from Garret Fitzgerald over the IRA's influence on society), and it's quite telling that the supposed "heroes" of the Peace Process (Major, Trimble, Hume etc) do not appear so in the text, appearing more as bandwagon jumpers never completely convinced at the IRA's word.
It is quite extraordinary how history can absolve and vilify the alleged villains and heroes respectively.
Overall, From Partition to Brexit is an enjoyable read that is both succinct for those dipping their toes into the murky water of Anglo-Irish relations, and in depth enough for those whose knowledge of such affairs could be described as extensive.
It's not brimming with new information, but acts as a reference point and certainly puts the recent Varadkar/Foster/May dealings in historical perspective, allowing us to see how far the south has come from Jack Lynch's famous remark that, if he had been handed back Northern Ireland, he would have fainted.
Donnacha Ó Beacháin, 2019, From Partition to Brexit: The Irish Government and Northern Ireland. Manchester University Press ISBN-13: 978-1526132956
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.